Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives Rejected to Amendments Which Would Have Expanded Gambling
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives rejected two amendments which would have expanded both land-based and online gambling. Both measures failed by significant margins, despite support from the Republican majority in the House.
Republicans have fought for months to have state revenues increased through the expansion of gambling in the state. Gov. Tom Wolf has pushed for higher taxes in order to make up a budget shortfall. Most Republicans and many Democrats are unwilling to vote tax increases or limit services in an election year. That leaves the state with few options for raising the revenues it needs, because it is running a deficit of $1 billion each year.
House Bill 1925
The first bill would have expanded the number of places slot machines could be placed in Pennsylvania. Local bars, taverns, restaurants, night clubs, private social clubs, and volunteer fire department locations would have been able to house slots machines. Online gambling and daily fantasy sports would have been legalized under provisions of the new bill, too.
House Bill 1925 (A7622), which was introduced by Rep. John Payne, appeared as House Roll Call #1404 on Tuesday. HB 1925 lost by a margin of 122-66, with 14 abstentions. This bill lost by a larger margin than the second amendment.
HB 1925’s Second Amendment
The second bill would have allowed slot machines in airport terminals and at off-track betting facilities. The airport gaming machines were supposed to have an appeal, because visitors (and not residents) would be more likely to play the slot machines. Pennsylvania allows slot machines are racetracks (racinos), but does not allow gaming machines at the off-track facilities where horse betting takes place.
House Bill 1925 (A7619), which also was introduced by John Payne, appeared as House Roll Call #1405 on Tuesday, about 45 minutes later. This amendment lost by a margin of 107-81, with 14 abstentions. Had 14 votes gone the other way, this second proposal would have succeeded. The bill is unlikely to be considered for the remainder of the year.
New Solutions Must Be Found
Faced with serious defeats in the House, proponents of expanded gambling are going to have to find a formula which works. Several advantages exist, namely that the state’s leaders have to make decisions with few options that won’t cause blowback from voters. Pennsylvanians are not likely to support the state leaders simply balking at solutions, as that puts off the problem for later — and makes the problem bigger.
Online gambling is not seen as a full solution for the $1 billion budget shortball. Many argue that, if it isn’t the solution, gambling should not be expanded. Others point out that online gambling is expected to generate $400 million in revenues each year and it could be a part of the solution.
Gaming Industry Split on the Issue
It does not help that brick-and-mortar casino operators are split on whether to support online gambling. The Mohegan Sun Casino in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania supports the proposal to expand online gambling. The Sands Bethlehem does not support legalized online gambling, mainly because its own, Sheldson Adelson, is an opponent of such measures.
One solution is to break the gaming bills into bite-size pieces. It appears that supporters of online gambling lost votes, because of the video lottery terminals to be placed in restaurants and bars. Though Mohegan Sun supports online casinos and poker sites, they are adamanantly against VLTs in airports and racinos. Such gaming machines would hurt business.
Michael Bean, CEO of Mohegan Sun, told McCall, “We would have never agreed to invest $659 million in Pennsylvania if we thought this was coming. The inclusion of video gaming terminals in this bill is particularly troubling.”
“If you add to the supply, it’s going to cannibalize the casinos. It will damage a model that’s been very successful for Pennsylvania.”
If the bill is broken into its constituent parts and voted on separately, a wider coalition of voters might be formed. That way, fewer disqualifying provisions make it into a bill or amendment. The problem with such an approach is it is harder to bring the house to a vote on separate bills, when they are of a similar nature.
John Payne expects to have a vote on the online gambling bill in June, though the votes on Tuesday are likely to be a bad sign. Gambling proponents have a steep hill to climb, but today’s votes do give framers of the June bill information on the offending clauses, as well as the voting tendencies of most lawmakers on similar issues.